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Can You Get Sued for Showing the Super Bowl?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Many businesses that plan to show the Super Bowl this Sunday don't plan on getting sued for doing it. But unless you're very careful about copyright law, the NFL's lawyers could potentially come knocking at your door.

So how can a business get sued for showing the Super Bowl?

Copywritten Content and Commercial Use

Part of the problem of airing something like the Super Bowl at your bar, restaurant, or even electronics store is that you have not paid the NFL for the license to display the Super Bowl and make a buck off it.

The issue involves copyright laws. Restaurants and bar owners can be sued if they don't pay for the license to play background music in their businesses, and businesses that air the Super Bowl are under similar risks. By showing the Super Bowl to an audience of paying customers, a business is essentially rebroadcasting a copywritten piece of content (the Super Bowl) for commercial use.

Like businesses that don't pay cable or satellite TV companies for a commercial license to display cable broadcasts to their customers, not getting proper permission to air copywritten material can open your business up to copyright infringement suits.

But, as Ars Technica points out, the relevant federal copyright law is chock full of exceptions.

Your Business May Show the Super Bowl If...

The main federal law regarding infringment exceptions spells out different exceptions based on what kind of business you have.

If you run a "food service or drinking establishment" that is less than 3,750 square feet, and you plan on showing the Super Bowl in your bar or restaurant, you probably can't have:

  • More than four TVs or projectors total,
  • More than one TV/projector per room,
  • Any screen bigger than 55 inches (diagonal),
  • More than six loudspeakers, or
  • More than four loudspeakers per room.

For bars and restaurants larger than 3,750 square feet, you may avoid a suit if you confine your Super Bowl viewing area to within 3,750 square feet.

For those businesses that don't serve food or drinks, the same applies except the viewing area is limited to 2,000 square feet. That means electronics stores might want to have only one section of the store playing the big game (and only on a maximum of four reasonsably sized TVs).

These guidelines may provide general guidance for viewing the Super Bowl, it may be helpful to consult with a copyright attorney to get advice on your business' particular circumstances.

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